LA unveils $578 million school

Next month, Los Angeles Unified will unveil the Robert F. Kennedy school complex for 4,200 K-12 students. At $578 million, it’s the nation’s most expensive school.

“New buildings are nice, but when they’re run by the same people who’ve given us a 50 percent dropout rate, they’re a big waste of taxpayer money,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution who sits on the California Board of Education. “Parents aren’t fooled.”

RFK, built on the site of the Ambassador Hotel where Kennedy was killed, includes fine art murals, a marble memorial depicting Kennedy, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and pieces of the original hotel.

Partly by circumstance and partly by design, the Los Angeles Unified School District has emerged as the mogul of Taj Mahals.

The RFK complex follows on the heels of two other LA schools among the nation’s costliest — the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, which opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School that debuted in 2009.

The pricey schools have come during a sensitive period for the nation’s second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall and some schools persistently rank among the nation’s lowest performing.

A heavily Hispanic school, Roybal earned a 1 out of 10 on the Academic Performance Index compared to all California high schools, a 3 out of 10 compared to demographically similar schools.

Update: Including capital costs, Los Angeles Unified spends $30,000 per student, writes John Seiler on CalWatchdog. Like virtually all districts, LA Unified reports only operating costs.

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  1. 578 million? 4,200 kids? Round enrollment up to 5,780 and divide. That’s $100,000 per kid. At 5% interest, this is $5,000, or $100,000 per year for a classroom of 20 students. The contractor has friends in high places.

    It does not take 12 years at $10,000 per year (about US average) to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State (government, generally) provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be, and is in totalitarian countries like Cuba and North Korea.

    The US “public” school system is an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    My recollection of farmers–never been one, myself–is that they measure success by the harvest, not by the amount of fertilizer they buy.
    Stupid farmers.

  3. I’m with Malcolm on this one. The cost of that money is roughly half the money they spend educating a kid for a whole year. In other words, the students going through this school are going to cost somewhere around 25% more than students going to a non-Taj-Mahal school.

    The argument that kids learn better in a nicer environment isn’t presented with any authority or evidence, either. I also call bullsh*t on “windowless cinderblock schools”. I’ve never seen one of those. Perhaps they exist, but I went to elementary school in the 1960’s and our classrooms had lots of windows.

    The arguments to energy saving are probably bogus too. The costs to run a building are related to it’s size. Given the almost $600 per square foot cost from the article and $578M price tag, this school runs to about a million square feet. That’s more than 200 square feet per kid, which is going to take a LOT of money to light and air-condition compared to a non-Taj-Mahal school. By the way, commercial buildings cost about $200 per foot to build, these days. The cost for this building was three times that.

    This is an irresponsible monument to school board corruption.

  4. Richard Nieporent says:

    Luckily California is awash in money. Oh, wait …

  5. This is just a stepping stone! It’s just a matter of time now before some bold, visionary school board OK’s plans for a trillion dollar high school.

    There’s got to be some pretty fancy learning going on in a place like that!